Imagine holding a secret inside you that’s buried so deep no one has any idea it’s there, yet it comes to the surface almost on a daily basis, only to be looked at, remembered, and then buried again.
Imagine finally telling that story, after twenty five years of carrying it by yourself, to only one person. And being terrified that by telling it, you may lose that one person in your life that you can’t live without.
But you know you have no choice, if you’re going to make this relationship work. So you take that chance.
This is Elizabeth’s story, as told to me a few years ago by her husband, the man she finally trusted to tell her story to. And re-told here, of course, with their permission.
Elizabeth was raised in an era in which babies weren’t born to unmarried women. It just wasn’t done. There were many hastily arranged marriages back then, especially in small towns, with parents crying real tears for lots of reasons. Sadly most of those marriages didn’t last.
Or instead of marrying, if they could, many times young girls would travel to visit a “distant relative” for several months for a change of scenery. Usually everyone knew why, but said nothing.
Elizabeth grew up in a medium sized town, where, fortunately, not everyone always knew everyone else. She was not quite 20 years old, a college sophomore living at the time about two hours away from her hometown, when she found herself pregnant. Marrying the baby’s father was not an option. In fact, she didn’t even tell him. He was already in a relationship with someone else; she certainly didn’t love him, so why would she decide to have him in this child’s life – and hers?
But she also knew she wasn’t ready to have a child. She had her education to finish. She also knew this news would devastate her parents, as much as they loved her. Their embarrassment and disappointment in her would be too much for her to bear.
At that time abortion had just become legal throughout the country. Sure, she briefly considered it, but she also knew she could never ever do that. Kill the life growing inside her? Not even give this baby a chance at life? No. She couldn’t live with herself if she did that. But she also knew she couldn’t raise a child right now, especially on her own.
So she made plans, and told her parents she’d be spending the summer with a girlfriend in another state while doing an internship for school. Although somewhat disappointed they wouldn’t see their daughter over the summer break, they were excited about her opportunity. And they totally supported her.
Little did they know….
Elizabeth had already contacted an attorney who specialized in private adoption. She met with that attorney on several occasions, exploring her options. And she made the difficult decision to have the baby and have it placed in a family of her choice.
“She told me it was the most difficult decision she’d ever made,” her husband told me. “She knew she’d never see the child again, or know anything about him or her, because that’s how adoption was handled then. She knew there’d always be a part of her that was missing, but she also told me she couldn’t have lived with herself if she’d aborted that child. And I greatly respected her courage and the choice she made. And I told her so, as she cried when she finished her story.”
Elizabeth read the stories about each of the families who’d registered with her attorney to be considered as adoptive parents. She looked through pictures of these potential parents for her child, trying to decide who to choose, because in those days, adoptive parents and birth mothers rarely ever met, and she couldn’t handle that anyway.
She finally selected a family who’d been on the adoption list for several years. The woman had her coloring, her height. The man slightly resembled the child’s father, so she figured there’d be less questions as he or she grew up. Both potential parents had college degrees, which was important to her, because they would most likely be able to adequately provide for her baby, and make sure that child received a good education as well.
As a mother, and now a grandmother, I cannot imagine the thoughts going through Elizabeth’s mind as she reviewed potential parents to raise the child she was carrying. She knew she’d see her baby just one time, hold that precious little one just once, and then with a first and last kiss, hand her child over to a nurse who would then take him/her to the parents she’d selected.
What a brave, loving, and totally unselfish act. And I’m sure she wondered if she could really go through with it when it was time. If she’d have the courage to hand her child over and entrust his/her life to strangers.
But she knew she had no choice, and it was the most loving thing she could possibly do.
She also knew her life would be changed forever.
Her attorney helped her make plans to stay at a home for unwed mothers, as they were called those many years ago. When her college classes ended at the beginning of the summer, Elizabeth went to stay for those last several months of her pregnancy with several other young women in her same situation.
“She won’t talk about those months,” said her husband. “I think they were just too hard for her to remember. Here she was, pregnant, surrounded by people she didn’t know, and getting ready to do one of the hardest things she could ever do. But I admire her greatly for her decision.”
Elizabeth did take a couple of college classes while she was waiting to give birth, which probably helped pass the time, as well as take her mind off what was to come.
And then the day came. Nervous, scared, and not knowing what to expect, Elizabeth gave birth to a baby boy. She looked at him, and loved him immediately. She hesitated for a moment, tears in her eyes as she kissed him hello and goodbye, and tearfully handed him over to the waiting nurses.
But she never forgot. And she always wondered.
And yes, there is a “rest of the story.” Read “The Secret Child, Part II,” to be published here on February 2.